Nigeria: Health minister, Delta Governor say rising rates of maternal, infant mortality unacceptable

This article was originally published in The Guardian (Nigeria) here.

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, and Delta Governor Ifeanyi Okowa on Thursday decried the “rising and unprecedented” rates of maternal and infant mortality in the country, and declared that the trend was “simply unacceptable”.

The duo spoke at the opening ceremony of the 62nd National Council on Health (NCH), meeting in Asaba, Delta State. Ehanire, in his remarks, confirmed that in spite of global decline in maternal mortality in the Millennium Development Goals era, the rates of maternal and infant mortality in Nigeria were high and at an unprecedented rates.

The meeting has the theme “Consolidating the Journey Towards Achieving Universal Health Coverage”. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), quotes the minister as saying that Nigeria’s maternal mortality rates remained among the highest in the world, with more than 40,000 deaths yearly.

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets for maternal mortality by 2030, is for Nigeria to reduce maternal deaths by more than 90 per cent,” he said.

Ehanire lamented that in spite of all efforts, women and babies die needlessly, saying that government had challenged the Federal Ministry of Health to engage other stakeholders to develop a “Strategic Roadmap for Action” to serve as a springboard to accelerate reduction of maternal and neonatal mortality.

He commended Okowa for his commitment to the health and well being of Delta citizens, saying that such commitment had been demonstrated by the inclusion of health in his SMART Agenda and in promoting Universal Health Coverage in the state.

Okowa, in his speech, regretted that Nigeria had the highest maternal and child mortality rate in the world after overtaking India in 2015, in spite of the fact that Nigeria’s population was less than one fifth of India’s.

According to him, Nigeria must review the Second National Strategic Development Plan if it was serious about tackling the menace.

Okowa called for urgent measures to develop viable and sustainable framework that would address both maternal and child morbidity and mortality.

He decried a situation where less than five percent of the 192 million (World Bank 2017 figures) Nigerians were currently covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme, and stressed the need for urgent actions against the alarming increase in the nation’s population.

“Our population grows at a disproportional rate compared to our resources. That situation is a time bomb waiting to explode. This meeting must workout modalities for a planned national growth in population,” he said.

Okowa said that the situation needed to be addressed urgently by sensitising the citizenry on the harmful effect of disproportionate growth in our population as compared to the slow rate of economic growth.

“It is a ticking time bomb which we must detonate now by employing the right actions and programmes,” he said

He, however, expressed hope that the meeting would come up with viable proposals, concrete measures and measurable goals that would accelerate the nation’s journey towards Universal Health Coverage.

High points of the opening ceremony included the launch of the Roadmap on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal and Neonate Mortality in Nigeria by Okowa, the minister and other stakeholders. NAN reports that the NCH is the highest policy making body on health issues in Nigeria.

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